“They are here and they are real,” said Kip Yattaw of Port Clyde.

The school maintenance worker said he had spotted a mountain lion in a field near the entrance to the Owls Head Transportation Museum while driving down Route 73 at about 7 a.m. Aug. 2.

Yattaw, who formerly served as a Registered Maine Guide, said there was no question in his mind what he saw. He said he had hunted bobcats in the past and could tell the difference between a bobcat and a mountain lion.

Yattaw, who works for Regional School Unit 13, was on his way to Gilford Butler School. As he was driving, he spotted an animal first from a great distance and thought maybe it was a deer or a large coyote.

As he got closer to the field, which he said was across from the entrance to the museum, he saw that the animal was a huge cat with a long tail. He said he pulled his van over to the side of the road and got out to get a better look. He said the animal was buff or tan in color.

“This thing was a big cat, a huge cat,” he said.

Based on its size, he said he believed it was a male.

According to a biologist from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, however, Maine does not have a self-sustaining or reproducing population of mountain lions (also known as Eastern cougars). Wildlife biologist Keel Kemper said the state receives many anecdotal reports of mountain lion sightings, but scientists need hard evidence to prove there is a population.

He said there is no simple answer to the question of whether there are mountain lions in the state. He said the state investigates reports of sightings when appropriate. He said the state got a plaster cast of a footprint in Monmouth. In addition, DNA evidence confirmed a mountain lion at Fundy National Park in New Brunswick, Canada.

In Maine, however, the state has not yet obtained DNA evidence.

“We have no roadkill,” Kemper said. He said that with a sustained population, one might expect some roadkill or dead bodies.

“I don’t have any reason to discount him,” Kemper said of Yattaw’s report. “As a scientist, I need some evidence.”

Registered Maine Guide and VillageSoup Outdoor Editor Ken Bailey added that there are people all over the state who have motion-activated wildlife cameras watching piles of bait. In some cases, these are bear hunters working in remote parts of Maine’s forests, and yet no one has captured a photo of a mountain lion. They’ve obtained pictures of bears, deer, coyotes and bobcats, but not cougars.

One picture that was submitted to the state turned out to be a yellow tabby house cat, according to Ralph Brissette of the wildlife department’s information center in Augusta. He said the state actively investigates the sightings.

Both Kemper and Bailey noted that some people have exotic pets and the question becomes whether sightings are of wild mountain lions or escaped exotics. Kemper said there are about six permitted captive cougars in Maine, and there may be many more that are not permitted or documented.

He said DNA evidence could determine whether a mountain lion was local or a pet imported from South America or another part of the world.

The mountain lion at the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray was originally someone’s pet, according to Brissette. He added that it is illegal to have one as a pet.

A cougar will commonly claim a territory of 100 square miles and mark its perimeter to warn off other mountain lions, according to Kemper. He said that if some are wandering long distances into Maine, they may not be successful in finding mates and setting up families.

Yattaw, however, is not the only believer with a strong outdoor background.

Registered Maine Guide and prolific outdoor writer Tom Seymour of Waldo said the state does have mountain lions and he has seen one in the wild with his own eyes. He said he and his dog were ice fishing in Brooks in 1989 when a mountain lion climbed up on a rock overlooking the pond.

He said the big cat let out an unnerving sound like a scream that scared his dog terribly.

“There’s no doubt about it,” he said when asked if he was sure it was a mountain lion.

He said he had binoculars with him at the time.

Kemper said he had received reports of sightings from coastal towns including Waldoboro, Damariscotta, Newcastle and now Owls Head. The region he covers is the Midcoast, but he said he had received more reports from coastal towns than inland areas. He said he would expect mountain lions in the big woods rather than on the coast, if in fact they do live in the state.

Scientists believe mountain lions once covered the continent from coast to coast, as well as territory throughout Central and South America. It is the most widely distributed big cat in the world, according to Kemper. Hunting, trapping and loss of habitat on the East Coast drove the species into the west.

The animals seem to have been gone since the late 19th century, according to Kemper. He said he had looked at turn-of-the-century trapping reports and found no records of mountain lions.

Kemper referred to cougarnet.org, a Web site devoted to scientific data about cougars.

“Two Class II confirmations are from Maine,” the site states. “A confirmation was made at Cape Elizabeth in 1995 on the southern coast, where a woman witnessed a cougar drinking from a pond. Hair samples were collected by Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife biologists. The hair samples were analyzed microscopically and determined to be cougar.”

“A second confirmation in the fall of 2000 is from Monmouth located in south central Maine,” the site states. “A deer hunter was scouting the area before hunting season and came upon a female and a kitten. He called the district game warden who then contacted a state wildlife biologist to investigate. They found numerous tracks in the mud. … [The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife] believes that there have definitely been cougars in Maine, but that they are likely of captive origin.”

Seymour rejects the state’s stance and questions how every mountain lion spotted could be an escaped pet. He said he never knew anyone who had a pet mountain lion and if such a pet escaped it would be all over the news.

He said the state chooses not to officially recognize the existence of mountain lions because if they were proven to exist, organizations and individuals dedicated to protecting animals would swoop in and bring all kinds of new regulations and restrictions for outdoor uses. Some places would be off limits to hunters or tree harvesters. He pointed out the restrictions now in place to protect eagles.

Kemper said that is absolutely not the case. He said the state does not shy away from regulation. “We regulate everything,” he said.

He said the state is interested in the observations of residents.

“You could rest assured some group would rush to protect them,” Bailey said.

He said one can’t regulate, however, until there is proof that something exists.

Brissette said it is illegal to shoot a mountain lion in the state of Maine. To some extent, the species is already protected by the state.

Kemper stated one point on which all of the experts may agree.

“It’s a very intriguing question,” he said.

For more information, visit cougarnet.org.